Immigration Bill

I’ve been chastised because I haven’t said anything about the Bill. Mostly I haven’t commented because it doesn’t seem very likely anything will come of it. The Republican Base is against it, Democrats are leaning protectionist/populist and its soon to be election season so nobody wants to piss off their voters.

But if parsing the proposed legislation is what you want, here’s a conservative’s point by point take on it. If you don’t trust that, do-it-yourself here.

My general sentiments are more close to this NY Times editorial. Immigration is a particularly American tradition that I’m proud of in the abstract. But more importantly, I’m particularly proud of my own family’s heritage as “new comers” to this country (Ambrosini’s have been here in Northern California from Switzerland for about 125 years).

Low skill immigrants compete with natives with low education, but not that much. Even to the extent Mexican immigrants (and this debate is about Mexican immigrants) compete with Americans, I’m not sure why we should be protecting low paying jobs. No one is entitled to a job and if we’re going to have creative destruction, why not have it on the low end of the skill distribution?

In my perfect world, the borders would be completely open. The Econ 101 theory tells us that immigration controls, like all restrictions on trade, are bad for society. The data basically say there is little cost to immigration, even if you think evaluating natives separate from the immigrants is an ethically ok thing to do (i.e. what’s the relevant moral community?). Mostly though the best argument for the free flow of people, especially from poor countries, is there’s a positive cultural externality to adding these people in our country. Immigrants are just cool people. They have gumption, they picked themselves up from where they were and moved far away from home. They’re hard working and they have good family values. (… I’m going to get shit for that one…)

Given there’s enough paleo-conservatives out there (e.g. 2/3rds of my family) that oppose immigration, while no doubt being sons and daughters of immigrants, open borders will never happen. So, my compromise would be guest worker program that moves people towards regular citizenship. My fear with this Bill is that we’d create second class citizens, breaking the tradition of the American melting pot.

That said, I believe in the rule of law. We have these silly laws and they should be followed until the law is changed.

More at Dani Rodrik’s blog and Tim Lee responds.

9 thoughts on “Immigration Bill”

  1. I dunno, if our ancestors hadn’t had the foresight to close the borders a century ago, the county would be full of poor, unskilled Irish, clogging up our hospitals and streets and pubs, forcing their wacky Gaelic on our schoolchildren. For Christ’s sake, can you imagine what it would be like with a bunch of Catholics running around, influencing our culture?

  2. Thought I’d be preaching to the choir… How about this bit of intrigue?

    “No one is entitled to a job and if we’re going to have creative destruction, why not have it on the low end of the skill distribution?”

  3. That’s a cute statement, but the reasoning behind it concerns me. The better question isn’t whether or not the worker is entitled to a job, but what they will tend to do when they can’t get a job.

    That said, I’m not convinced that there are jobs that no American worker will do. I am convinced that there are wage levels that an American worker will scoff at, since they won’t provide an acceptable level of poverty. If we’re talking about opening job recruitment, with the stipulation that immigrant workers will enjoy equivalent compensation to American workers, I can get behind that. If we’re talking about zero protection, with whatever meager pay an immigrant will agree to, I can see things going Dickenzian really quickly.

    I do agree that there’s something to be said about a person who will cross borders and deserts at tremendous risk to work for starvation pay in a foreign country. Heh, maybe we should open our Army recruitment to them: serve a tour, win full citizenship for yourself and your family. We run down the terrorists with our Mexican Zerg Rush tactics, white folks get to satiate themselves with all the brown-on-brown violence, and the surviving families get to settle in Fresno. Win-win-win.

  4. I don’t follow your criticism. What’s wrong with my reasoning?

    Prof. Peri’s work shows that native high school drop outs have their wages reduced by 1%… only 1%… with immigration. This is statistically different than zero, but we’re talking about wages going from $30,000 a year to $29,700 a year. Big whoop.

    These are averages. More likely than every high school drop out’s wages falling by 1% is most keep their jobs but a handful lose their jobs (so the averages work out the same in the two cases). This sucks.

    This sucks, but I don’t really care. We should encourage people to continuously improve their skills and to aspire to more than to be McDonald’s careerists.

    Everyone else *benefits* from immigration (their wages go up). This is due to the increased demand for goods that immigrants bring and I’m sure more clever reasons clever labor economists could tell us about (increased human capital? increased specialization? i don’t know…).

  5. I’m already convinced that the numbers balance out, in the long run. Perception and politics are the sticking points. Your high school dropout loses his job, which sucks, but now he’s against immigration for life. So is his family, so are his friends, so are some of his former co-workers. Maybe they even start to resent everyone from Ethnistan. I guess that fades in the long run. I don’t see much bile directed against the Irish, for example.

    One point I can think of in your argument’s favor is that it’s cheaper for our society to have an unemployed high school dropout than an unemployed state-schooled engineer. We subsidized the engineer’s education, and expect that investment to be returned as taxes. We cut our losses with the high school dropout a long time ago.

    Hm, Peri’s paper is a little long for me to read right now. Is part of his argument based on the idea that immigrants will be paid less than natives (minimum wage, I guess)?

    What worries me is that you might end up with a wide disparity between the low wage earners and the real winners, i.e. the business owners. I seem to remember someone theorizing that societies with substantial differences between the high and low end incomes tend to have higher crime rates – can’t remember who it was, at the moment.

    I’m not against immigration, mind you, I’m just considering secondary effects. What I wouldn’t want to see is hordes of immigrant laborers brought in to work for $2/hour.

  6. So he’s speaking in more general terms about the positive effects of immigration in both skilled and unskilled professions on wages. This seems counterintuitive, but I’ll take your word that a good case is built in the paper.

    Most of the objections to immigration are built around the idea that immigrants displace native workers: “Those Ethnistanis took our jorbs!!” This isn’t historically supported. Every immigrant group has contributed to the overall health of the system. It just involves some short term pain.

    That said, judging by your comment about second-class citizenship, I think we’re in the same camp.

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